Tags: Barack Obama | Donald Trump | George W. Bush | Media Bias | bbc | fdr | new year

Trump Wins at Social Media

Image: Trump Wins at Social Media

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are greeted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and His Royal Highness Prince Harry of Wales as they arrive at Kensington Palace in London, in April, 2016. Prince Harry recently interviewed Obama, on BBC Radio. The former president cautioned regarding the use of social media. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Tuesday, 02 Jan 2018 02:42 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The end of 2017 was a time for two presidents to think about social media. Former President Barack Obama declared, in a BBC Radio interview with Britain's Prince Harry (grandson of Queen Elizabeth and fifth in line for the throne) that "One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities." He added, "They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases."

This was generally perceived as an attack on President Donald Trump, who has become extremely adept in the use of social media, particularly his Twitter account, to which he frequently resorts in order to criticize what he believes to be unfair characterizations of him— and his administration.

Said Mr. Trump, in one of his latest tweets, "I use social media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a  very dishonest and unfair 'press,' now often referred to as fake news media. Phony and non-existent 'sources' are being used more often than ever. Many stories and reports a pure fiction!!"

Who gets it right? Mr. Obama has a point about people viewing the facts in a different manner — obviously he and Mr. Trump see many things differently, but the notion that people can have "different realities" sounds like some kind of post-modern psychobabble, given that there can be only one actual reality.

Mr. Trump clearly adheres to the one reality view, and is suggesting that too often coverage of his administration reflects the bias of reporters, virtually all of whom were acolytes of Mr. Obama’s and hoped Mr. Trump would be defeated in the recent election. Could it be that Mr. Obama accurately describes the phenomenon that Mr. Trump excoriates?

President Trump has been the subject of extraordinary criticism because of his purportedly unpresidential and pungent use of his Twitter account to disparage his political opponents and unfavorable press coverage, but what if he has a better grasp on reality than do his critics?

The presidency ought to be a noble office, and one that carries with it profound deference and respect. Ronald Reagan, for example, was said never to have gone into the Oval Office unless he was wearing a coat and tie — in order to preserve the dignity of the position.

The office of the president was supposed to be one of deep gravity, and it is clear from the writings of the framers that they hoped that the creation of the Electoral College would result in the selection of a person possessing the requisite integrity, knowledge, and wisdom to execute the office.

It was some sign of their purpose that all the members of that body unanimously voted for the first president, George Washington, the national epitome of disinterested virtue, courage, and sagacity.

And yet, times do change, and even the framers might have perceived that the needs of the nation might require of the chief executive a creative approach to his or her tasks. Prior presidents have certainly perceived a need for press officers and a communications staff to promulgate their particular messages.

In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that one of the most important aspects of the presidential role is to make clear to the public the aims, the policies, and the successes of the administration.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt brilliantly used radio in his fireside chats, and both presidents Reagan and Clinton were lauded for being great communicators, while some others, like President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush were condemned for being insufficiently articulate.

Curiously, President Obama came under some fire for thinking like a law professor (which he once was), or for engaging in academic ivory tower analysis.

When Mr. Trump uses his twitter account succinctly, powerfully, and picturesquely to skewer his critics and opponents, and put forth what he takes to be the true state of the nation and its affairs, he may be doing something Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson would never have imagined. Yet his purpose may actually be in accord with theirs.

Whatever the divergent beliefs of the framers (some, obviously, favored a strong central government, while others wanted more power allocated to the states and localities, and some favored agrarian interests, while others wanted to encourage commerce), they all agreed that the only legitimate basis for government was the sovereignty of the American people, and they all agreed as well that only an informed citizenry could exercise the virtue necessary to maintain a republic.

As we enter the second year of the Trump administration we will be able better to discern who actually is the more accurate perceiver of reality — the media, his critics, or the president? As the New Year begins, it would be unwise to bet against the tweeter in chief.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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As we enter the second year of the Trump administration we will be able better to discern who actually is the more accurate perceiver of reality — the media, his critics, or the president? As the New Year begins, it would be unwise to bet against the tweeter in chief.
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Tuesday, 02 Jan 2018 02:42 PM
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